Friday, December 8 at 7.30pm heralds the culmination of a new partnership between River City Voices and Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program when River city Voices presents Blue Sky Country Christmas.
Ahead of this landmark performance at St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta, RCV's Jen Ward chatted with Ngarra-burria graduate, composer Elizabeth Sheppard, whose songs will be performed in the concert program:
JW: Can you please introduce yourself?
ES: I’m an Australian Noongar composer with background Scottish, Irish and Welsh heritage. I compose music that sits between cultures, but my Noongar perspective comes first in my music. The primary structures, concepts and images all come from my Noongar heritage, and I use Noongar language in my songs. That doesn’t rule out using elements from other cultures - they’re just there to support the Noongar music.
JW: You have Noongar language in your carols?
ES: Yes, the Noongar language is so musical, melodies grow from the Voice of Country. One way to learn about each other’s cultures, is to sing parallel lyrics in two languages. so in my carol Mary Moorditj Ngaangk, the Noongar and English lyrics wed European and Noongar Christian theologies together, in the music. In Blue Sky Country, the Noongar words for peace, light, joy, and a song - urge us to live thankfully, and share resources, as Noongar people do. That’s what Australia does, at Christmas - we sing up and share good things.
JW: What have you enjoyed most about creating and adapting your composition for the choir?
ES: Well matched Australian composers and choirs are great at bringing cultures together in a common cause. That’s what I enjoy about working with River City Voices - everyone is not only technically skilled, they’re about building a repertoire of accessible, intercultural, singable local music. So when River City Voices performs music I’ve put my heart and soul into, I know this choir will present it with cultural respect and safety, sincerity, and finesse.
JW: Has it been different, partnering with River City Voices? Are you enjoying it?
ES: Hearing River City Voices sing is always wonderful, and hearing my carols sung at St Pat’s Cathedral, my own home church, this Christmas, is a special joy for me. I’ve made music with choirs my whole life, and each choir has its own special character. The strength of River City Voices is its warmth, versatility, integrity and respect for all musics, all composers, all human cultures. They are showing us how to encourage and listen to each other.
JW: What’s the one thing you’d like audiences to know about your composition?
ES: My Australian carols express the Christmas theme of the divine love that the birth of a weak, helpless new baby inspires. The paradox of divine power in new life is unfathomable, and the melodies and words of these simple songs came to me as a gift for our time, our place, to be shared. There are many such songs in this Country: if you hear one, do what I did, learn to write it down, and share it with others.
JW: Our Brave Concert Series is all about opening music up beyond the classical norm. How do you think your compositions - the partnership - has done that? You’ve touched on the fact that we’re bringing it to Western Sydney...
ES: My music is a small part of the Ngarra-burria movement, that is growing a repertoire of Indigenous Australian music for our time and place. In each Australian time, in each Australian place, fertile musical seeds are embedded. When we open our ears, we can hear them. If we choose to water them, and tend them, they will sprout and grow. When I opened my ears, on my Country, I heard it singing, so I helped these seed songs grow.
JW: One word to describe the Blue Sky Country Christmas program, and your role in the
ES: Uplifting, but compassionate, and not oblivious to the conflicts raging in our world.
Copyright © Elizabeth Sheppard, 30 Nov 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Tickets can be purchased online via Humanitix or at the door.